Electric Cars Won’t Save Us

The electric car will be an important part of a green transition. But our main focus should be moving toward green collective mobility like public transportation and away from the dominance of personally owned cars.

Despite the commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement, the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it abundantly clear: without radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the earth is due to reach that 1.5 degree Celsius threshold very soon — then surpass it.

Since the energy sector still holds the most responsibility for emissions and their impacts, electrification is mentioned frequently as an essential way to radically cut emissions, especially by decreasing dependence on oil, coal, and gas. This means a general decarbonization of the energy sector — including cuts to CH4 and N2O emissions — that goes beyond transitioning the electricity and heat grid. Electrification in energy transition also includes manufacturing and construction and, of course, transportation.

Electricity and heat generation depends primarily on coal, peat, and oil shale, whereas transportation is heavily reliant on petroleum. Transitioning the electrical grid from fossil fuels has often meant a mix of solar and wind, combined with hydropower and nuclear in some areas. Transitioning the transportation sector, on the other hand, tends to imply two things: investments in renewable energy-to-liquid fuel, hydrogen, biofuels, and others when it comes to aviation and electric vehicles on the ground. But we should be clear: electric vehicles are not a straightforward solution to a renewable transportation sector and are distracting us from energy priorities that could actually halt climate change.

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